Uncertain origin (1870s)
Knickerbocker Hotel, New York City (1911)

This is The One Martini, if you ask me. Beyond the really annoying Chocotini, Appletini thing. I’m talking about more subtle variations – more vermouth, less vermouth, a dash of olive brine, a dash of Scotch, blah blah. With the right ingredients, this archetypal cocktail doesn’t need anything else. The Martini has even become iconic visual shorthand for “cocktail” – check warning labels and outdoor sign icons. Ignore James Bond’s assertion about shaking Martinis, he just wanted to sound like a tough guy.

It’s supposed to be quick and simple, but somehow it’s taken on this air of mystery and reverence. Seems everyone who likes Martinis gets really anal about exactly how they like theirs. Guess I’m in that crowd now. Old Tom gin rounds out the corners nicely, London Dry will be snappier, Plymouth will be citrusy – see what you prefer.

You’ll notice this recipe follows the exact template as the Manhattan, just swapping ingredients. It’s a winning combo worth tinkering with: two parts spirit, one part aperitif, two dashes of a complementary bitters. Try substituting one or more ingredients out and see what you come up with – after all, bartenders have been doing the same thing since 1870 or so!

The French (AKA dry or white) style of vermouth used here came into being about 100 years after the original Italian (AKA sweet or red) style. They’re both made with a white wine base, actually – the difference in Italian vermouth is the mix of botanicals and sugar – and the use of caramel color or (less commonly) barrel aging.

The exact origin of the Martini is a mystery that may never be solved. Some point to the East Bay, California town of Martinez (home of the similar Martinez cocktail), some suggest Italian bartenders named “Martini,” but the Occam’s Razor answer is simply this: Martini (later named Martini & Rossi) began importing their Italian vermouth to the US around 1870, with the dry French style making its stateside debut around 1900. Folks would ask for a “Martini cocktail” the same way they might ask for a “brandy cocktail” or “whiskey cocktail.” It’s possible the Martinez and Martini were the same cocktail at one time, evolving to distinguish themselves by choice of vermouth style and accent flavors. Even though more vermouth brands became available in the US over time (Cinzano, Noilly Prat, Dolin), the name Martini stuck. For a time in the 1990s, the name “Martini” came to denote any cocktail served up; Thankfully, we’re getting away from that. The venerable Martini deserves more respect than to be saddled with a reputation as frilly and foo-foo.

THE KIT

Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon, Hawthorne strainer, Fine-mesh strainer, Cocktail pick
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s) or London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray) or Plymouth
Mixers & Liqueurs: French vermouth (recommended: Dolin, Noilly Prat)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange bitters (recommended: Regan’s), Pimento-stuffed olive (optional – recommended: Dirty Sue), Lemon twist

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a mixing glass, add:

2 oz gin
1 oz French vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Add a mix of ice cubes and cracked ice to cover well above the liquid level. Stir well to blend and chill, then double-strain (to catch small bits of ice)  into the chilled glass. Pinch a lemon twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Discard the twist.

Optionally, garnish with an olive pierced on a cocktail pick.

negroniFlorence, Italy (1919)

A classic cocktail with a surprising number of devotees, the Negroni is distinguished by its use of Campari, the bitter-orange aperitif that is – to put it kindly – an acquired taste. But I’ll say this: once you do acquire the taste, there’s no going back.

The Negroni is a great appetite stimulant – perfect before a big dinner. It works equally well on the rocks (in spring and summer) or up (in fall and winter). You’ll want a good, sharp, juniper-forward gin here – one that won’t get beaten down by the other two bullies in the drink.

The drink has an interesting origin story: Italian-born Count Camillo Negroni had spent time in America as a cowboy and in London as a bon vivant. On his return to Florence in 1919, he asked the bartender at the Caffè Casoni for a stronger take on the popular Americano cocktail, swapping gin for soda water, and serving it up (or on the rocks). It caught on locally, and his namesake cocktail became a hit internationally. Anthony Bourdain is on record as a fan; Gaz Regan is famous (infamous?) for his “finger-stirred Negroni.”

There’s something magical about a well-made Negroni: it’s like a reset button for your day, signaling the start of a great night when anything is possible.

THE KIT

Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass (or Old Fashioned glass)
Spirits: London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray) or Plymouth gin
Mixers & Liqueurs: Italian vermouth (recommended: Carpano Antica, Noilly Prat, Dolin), Campari
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange twist

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass (or Old Fashioned glass) in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a mixing glass about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 oz gin
1 oz Italian vermouth
1 oz Campari

Stir well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. As an alternative, this drink may be served in an Old Fashioned glass over rocks.

Pinch an orange twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then rub the twist around the glass rim to coat. Garnish with the twist laid across the surface of the drink.

SidecarRitz Bar, Paris, France (1920s)

The Sidecar is an elegant, refined sip that recalls Paris in the 1920s, when Prohibition had forced America’s best bartenders overseas. Swap the brandy for tequila, lemon for lime, and you pretty much have a Margarita.

It’s traditional to moisten the glass rim with lemon and dip the rim in sugar – but certainly not necessary. I find the drink perfectly balanced on its own.

The Sidecar and the Margarita are where you’ll understand why a quality triple sec like Cointreau is worth every penny versus a cheaper variety that would overpower the drink with syrupy sweetness.

It’s said to be named for an American Army Captain stationed in Paris around the end of World War I who visited the Ritz Bar in a motorcycle sidecar – who knows, really? All you need to know about the Sidecar will be conveyed in your first sip: it’s a delicious classic worthy of its status.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Brandy or Cognac (recommended: Germain-Robin, Pierre Ferrand, Hennessy, Courvoisier)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lemon wheel, White sugar (optional)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

If you choose to sugar the rim, sprinkle some sugar on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lemon wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the sugar. Try to avoid getting sugar on the interior glass surface.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

2 oz brandy or Cognac
1 oz triple sec
3/4
oz lemon juice

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel.